What’s that you say? The phrase “cheap nice cars” is an oxymoron? If you’re in a situation in which you need new wheels, but your pocket is saying you need a low car payment too, this might seem to be a bleak situation. After all, finding a nice ride on an economy car budget can seem like a daunting task. But it’s easier than you might think. There is a good selection of cheap nice cars to be had, and from some of the industry’s most respected manufacturers. Even if you need to stay in, say, the $20,000 range; you’re going to be surprised at the number of nice cars you can get into. Further, if you need the lowest payment possible and you qualify, a lease on any of these models will keep you solidly in the $200 a month range.
10 Cheap, Nice Cars
An all-new version of the Chevrolet Cruze is slated to bow late in 2015, as a 2016 model. Preliminary information suggests a mild evolution of the handsome styling we’ve always appreciated about the compact Chevy sedan. The new platform developed for the model is a bit longer, which means more interior space, which should translate into more comfortable accommodations. Until then, the 2015 Cruze boasts WiFi capability, Siri Eyes Free, and a new front-end design. This, in conjunction with its responsive powertrain, strong fuel economy, comfortable ride and spacious interior (for its class) make Cruze a worthy consideration. Engines range in output from 138 horsepower for the gasoline-fired powerplants to 151 horsepower for the 2.0-liter diesel. Front-wheel drive is standard, as is a six-speed manual transmission. A six-speed automatic is offered as an option. Pricing starts at $16,170.
The handsome and spacious Dodge is both well equipped and exceptionally stylish. Based on the Italian Alfa Romeo Giulia, the Dart’s wedge-shaped profile cuts one of the more dashing figures in its competitive set. What’s more, the Dodge’s safety scores are very strong. The interior treatment is nicely contemporary and finished with a great deal of attention to detail. You’ll also find a generous array of standard features and some wholly unexpected options like remote ignition, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross traffic alert. Engine choices are a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 184 ft-lbs of torque; a 2.0-liter normally aspirated four with 160 horsepower and 148 ft-lbs of torque; or a 2.4-liter four with 184 horsepower and 171 ft-lbs of torque. Front drive is standard. Transmission choices include a six-speed manual, a six-speed automatic, and a six-speed automated manual. Pricing starts at $16,495.
If you really like the feel of a responsive car, the Ford Focus is an outstanding choice among cheap nice cars. The Ford has excellent handling, and yet it’s also capable of a smooth ride with remarkable quietness for its class. What’s more, its interior treatment is well finished and the materials Ford’s product team chose to comprise the passenger compartment of show very well on the quality front. Fresh off of a makeover for the 2015 model year, the 2016 Focus will be very lightly tweaked, if at all. Offered in both hatchback and four-door sedan body styles, the front-wheel drive Focus comes with a choice of two engines and an electric powertrain. The base engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 160 horsepower and 146 ft-lbs of torque. There’s also a 123-horsepower turbocharged 1.3-liter three-cylinder with 148 ft-lbs of torque. Pricing starts at $17,170.
One of the most versatile cars on offer today, Honda’s Civic enjoys near universal admiration across a broad spectrum of the car buying public. The sleekly sophisticated look of the car, along with its technically brilliant powertrain configurations and generous features list make it a popular choice. What’s more, the Civic boasts a comfortable ride, entertaining handling, a spacious interior, and an upscale look and feel—all of which can be had for remarkably reasonable money (in other words, yes, the Civic is a cheap, nice car). While the Civic is offered with a broad variety of powertrains including hybrid and natural gas, as well as in coupe and sedan body styles, the least expensive version runs a 1.8-liter four-cylinder with 143 horsepower and 129 ft-lbs of torque. The front drive Civic can be had with a five-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission. Pricing starts at $18,490.
Given the brand’s penchant for strong dollar to value propositions, you probably already expected to find a Hyundai on this list of cheap nice cars. That said, if you’re also looking to stand out from the crowd, Hyundai’s three-door compact hatchback Veloster will definitely get you noticed. For a lot of people, this alone would make it fun to drive. The good news is there’s far more to the Veloster than just good looks. Yes, we’ll admit the Hyundai’s performance potential is somewhat lacking, but it wants for very little in terms of equipment. Standard features include cruise control, a rearview camera, and a seven-inch touchscreen video interface. Power for the front-driver comes from a 138-horsepower 1.6-liter four with 123 ft-lbs of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard; a dual-clutch automated manual transmission is optional. Pricing starts at $18,000.
If you’ve just started paying attention to cars, you’ve probably seen the handsome Kia Forte around and had no clue it was a Kia, let alone an economy car. One of the best looking of the cheap nice cars, if the title on this page didn’t read Kia Forte, we’re pretty sure you could be convinced it was from a more upscale brand—with a higher price point. The goodness of this attractive compact also shows up inside the car, thanks to a handsome interior treatment, a strong feature set, and good ergonomics. With available features like xenon headlights, keyless entry and ignition, and a ventilated driver’s seat, the Forte works hard for the money. The front drive small sedan features a choice of three engines, ranging in output from 145 horsepower to 201. All can be had with a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. Pricing starts at $15,890.
Photo Credit: Mazda
Another favored brand among those appreciative of engaging automobiles, Mazda has a solid reputation for building fun to drive cars. One of its best is the Mazda3, which it offers in both sedan and hatchback body styles. With its reputation for crisp handling, peppy acceleration, and a smooth ride, as well as an affordable price, the Mazda3 quite naturally qualifies to proudly reside on our list of the best cheap, nice cars. Power comes from either a 155-horsepower 2.0-liter four, or a 184-horsepower 2.5-liter four feeding six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmissions. Available features include Bluetooth, cruise control, a seven-inch touchscreen, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alerts, and navigation. Pricing for the sedan starts at $16,495, the hatchback starts at $18,495.
Photo Credit: MINI
MINI Cooper Hardtop
Sometimes you can just tell what a car is going to be about just by looking at it. If any car can be said to telegraph its personality with its looks, there’s no questioning the fun to be derived from driving the MINI Cooper Hardtop. While the Cooper’s starting price is just a tick over our $20,000 price point, lease deals abound for easily keeping the payment around the $200.00 a month mark. In addition to being patently affordable, the sharp reflexes of the MINI Cooper make it the most fun to drive model on this list of cheap nice cars. Power for the base model comes from a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine designed by BMW. The engine makes 134 horsepower and 162 ft-lbs of torque. A six-speed manual transmission and front-drive are standard. A six-speed automatic is optional. Pricing starts at $20,700.
Photo Credit: Toyota
The vast majority of drivers are most concerned with having their cars start every time, carry a good deal of cargo when required, and consume long distances as comfortably as possible—on as little fuel as can be reasonably expected. This is precisely why the Toyota Corolla sells so well. Power comes from a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine configured in two different states of tune. The base setup makes 132 horsepower and 128 ft-lbs of torque. The “Eco” version makes 140 horsepower and 126 ft-lbs.—and gets better fuel economy! The base model Corolla is offered with a six-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission. All of the others get a continuously variable transmission. Pricing starts at $16,950.
The Volkswagen Jetta is quiet, smooth, and feels especially solid on the road. The Jetta is also roomy, well equipped, and nicely finished. What’s more, the Jetta’s trunk is quite capacious too. For the 2015 model year, the Jetta got new styling front and rear, as well as a revised diesel engine. Thus, it goes into the 2016 model year pretty much unchanged. Power ranges from 115 horsepower to 170. Transmission choices for the front-wheel drive powertrain include a five-speed manual, a six-speed manual, a six-speed automated manual, and a seven-speed automated manual. Pricing starts at $16,215.